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Book Discussion on Camelots Court

Series/Special. Historian Robert Dallek discusses his book 'Camelot's Court: Inside the Kennedy White House.' (Stereo)

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Johnson 33, Vietnam 9, Obama 8, Schlesinger 6, Bobby Kennedy 5, Arthur Schlesinger 5, Wilson 5, Washington 5, Ted Kennedy 4, Fbi 4, America 3, Franklin Roosevelt 3, Lyndon Johnson 3, Texas 2, Joe 2, Fdr 2, Harry Truman 2, Cuba 2, Russia 2, Boston 2,
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  CSPAN    Book Discussion on Camelots Court    Series/Special. Historian Robert Dallek discusses his book  
   'Camelot's Court: Inside the Kennedy White House.' (Stereo)  

    December 9, 2013
    7:00 - 8:01am EST  

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of advisers, which included his brother and attorney general robert kennedy, defense secretary robert mcnamara, and aides arthur schlesinger, jr. and ted sorenson. this is about one hour. >> under letter to here and i'm looking forward to this conversation. the first question is, 50 years after his death president can has an 80% approval rating among the american public. is the public wrong? >> first of all, it's 85%. [laughter] >> it's gone up. >> and the result of the recent government shutdown i suspect the vintage date it might be 90%. i don't think it's wrong in the sense that people in this country want to feel better
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about cover. they want to feel better about the countries future. and i think that's what kennedy still gives people. you know, they compare him to other subsequent presidents. johnson with vietnam. nixon with watergate. force truncated presidency. jimmy carter's one term. the first bush one term. the second bush leaves under a cloud. so they look to two presidents to give them better hope in feeling about the government. first off, kennedy, reagan in this poll which kennedy had 85% approval, reagan had 74%. so people remember that kennedy -- yo he put a man on the moon, that he called his administration the new frontier. he has frozen our minds at the age of 46, and nobody could
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quite imagine if he walked into this room tonight, he would be 96 years old. it's 50 years later. but he is still young, vital, energetic, a celebrity, and exciting personnel. people are attached to that, and i think -- what comes to mind, my teacher was richard hofstetter, the great historian. and dick once said to me that america is the only country in the world that believes it was more perfect and strives for improvement. [laughter] and this is what in a since kennedy gives to people this day. i'd say one other thing, which is that the kennedys are a americans dynasty. not the roosevelt's, not the bushes. and what people find so appealing about that is, on the one hand, they represent the fulfillment of the american dream. the irish catholic who became
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fabulously rich and famous, you see, and on the other hand so stock course that the oldest brother killed in world war ii, the oldest sister killed in a plane crash in france in 1948, the president assassinated, bobby kennedy assassinated, the president's son killed in a senseless plane crash off cape cod, jacqueline kennedy died in her early 60s of cancer, ted kennedy, the whore at chappaquiddick where that young woman died in that accident. they identify also with the suffering that the family has gone through, because everybody lives to something a difficult in their lives. so it's the combination on the one hand of their fame and fortune, and on the other hand
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their suffering, their tragedy. but they are really the dynastic family. >> that will explain the public fascination but in this book he tells the truth and we've had a range of kennedy biographies. then there was the tearing them down at exposure of his womanizing and the concealment of his health problems, but i left his platoon this was a pretty positive portrait. he was my take away come to paint the picture of a president came in with a lot of faith and going to defer to his disasters, but he learned from that expense and by the time of the cuban missile crisis he realized he was also responsible for the decisions and wisely resisted rational military action and save the world from nuclear annihilation.
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>> right on the mark, very fair assessment. he brought in what david halberstam later called the best and the brightest. he wanted these exceptionally intelligent and accomplished people to come in and be around him. he did nothing to the only one in new was of course his brother, bobby, who he made attorney general. somebody said to him, even if it's not a great idea to appoint your brother attorney general. he really doesn't have significant legal experience that would qualify him for the job. and kennedy said, i need, i need someone i can put my feet up with and talk to candidly, because he did not know dean rusk. he didn't know mcnamara. he didn't know steve douglas, who was eisenhower's secretary of the treasury. and bundy became a smash is a
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good advisor, he knew him, but not very well from the associations at the harvard board of -- cynics or whatever it's called. [laughter] >> harvard university faculty? >> right. [laughter] you are hearing from long serving academic. anyway, so he was comfortable with robert kennedy. and i must say, the thing you never have our many conversations i think he and bobby had behind the scenes. they are not tape-recorded. they are not on paper. but people could detect they'd come into the room and they'd meet with the cabinet or they would meet with the many advisors, and bobby would drop the hammer or the dime on something, and jack would sit there with a slight smile on his face because bobby was doing his
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bidding. and my guess is that they had worked out but bobby was going to say beforehand. so he was a comfortable with bobby. and i called bobby in the book the advisor of chief. he did have a chief of staff but bobby kennedy was the one who really did it. just more directly to your point, he grew in office. he learned you can just take at face value what these advisors were telling them. he was badly burned by the bay of pigs experience. walk around afterwards saying how good i've been so stupid? he saw charles de gaulle at the end of may shortly after that come and charles said to them, give the best advice you can. the smartest people you can possibly bring into your administration. but at the end of the day, you must make the decision. you are the one who has to decide what is appropriate and
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wise, and can you be remembered what harry truman said, the buck stops here. so he grew and he was skeptical and had the greatest tension with the joint chiefs of staff. he battled with them over the issue of nuclear weapons. >> as you say, both president clinton and bobby kennedy, much better than the joint chiefs and many of the advisors. they were pragmatic, cared about politics but argue for military restraint where both the joint chiefs, people like bundy and mcnamara all state under johnson really tarnished the reputation by their performance in vietnam. why was kennedy better than his advisers sequence well, -- it's not working. i think kennedy understood he was the responsible party.
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and he was deeply troubled by the fact that -- and what people have forgotten, i still teach, i'm in washington and in beijing people 20 years old, they don't have a clue at this point as to how frightened and concerned people were in the '50s and 60s about the possibility, indeed, even the likelihood that there could be a nuclear war. kennedy at one point said to somebody in private, i'd rather my kids be red than dead. he never could've said that in public. but what worried him so much was the fact that the chiefs when he came into office, that local commanders in the field, if there were an incident with the soviets, that they could unleash a nuclear weapon. and bundy said to him, we need
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to get a nuclear war plan, and we need to increase the controls over whether and when these weapons will be used. bundy called up the generals, the pentagon, who's in charge of nuclear war plan and said, we want to see. the joseph, i'm sorry, we don't show that. and bundy said, i don't think you understand. i'm asking for the president. and so then they had a briefing for kennedy with charts and discussion of how many weapons they had and how they might be used, and they were talking about the possibility of dropping 170 atomic and nuclear bombs on moscow. 170. and that what they described would come in a war, wiped out hundreds of millions of people in russia, eastern europe, china, you see.
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and as kennedy walked out of the room he said to dean rusk, the secretary of state, and we call ourselves the human race. he just was horrified at the thought that there could be such a conflict, and he would be the responsible person to he was the one who is going to pull the trigger. he didn't want any of them to have that control. he reserved for himself and, of course, the ultimate moment in that regard was in the cuban missile crisis when they wanted to bomb and invade, and he, with mcnamara's help and advice, he was ordered to diplomacy which resolve that crisis peacefully. he held the joint chiefs at arms length to that crisis, and at the end of it, he called them in to show the a certain deference. they came in and they said to him, mr. president, you've been had. was just deciding those missiles in case. the white house leaked this to
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the press. khrushchev then wrote kennedy, i don't live in a cave. i'm no caveman. well, they had a plan to drop a nuclear bomb on cuba. one megaton nuclear bomb. would have turned the island into a pile of rubble. let alone what it would've done to the south coast of florida. but they had come out of world war ii and their attitude is, if you're fighting a ruthless enemy, you bomb them back to the stone age. you have an advantage, you use it. kennedy just didn't want to describe it is, and he thought they were off the wall. he just resisted their advice. >> the cuban missile crisis is riveting, ma and to tell the story of the generals who are keen to absolutely have a nuclear escalation and many of the advisors, including bundy,
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pushing him in the same direction. and the whole thing seems to have been saved by slow to negation, the fact they were able to get two letters from khrushchev in response to the second one, the peaceful one and not the first one. of the world have been saved in the age of the internet? >> yeah, it's such a different world. it's so change. could kennedy have gotten away with the compulsive womanizing? could he have hidden his health problems? you know, as bill clinton found out, this is not something you can get away with. but it was a different time. i assume if they knew about the womanizing and they said yes, they did, but i said why didn't you report it? they said, it just wasn't done
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in the '60s. you didn't invade a president's private life that way, and you were much more restrained. >> you acknowledge the most extreme excesses, the womanizing and the way he would humiliate his mistresses by making them be with his aides in the white house pool and so forth but to say he did it because not the passion or the sex but because of the need for affirmation and attention. i thought maybe with that too generous? >> i think it was probably both, and he felt like in a sense he was a prince of the realm and he could get away with it. he was entitled. he was president. the most troubling thing i found with him in that regard was the fact that he seduced this 19 year-old, 20 year old, had an affair with her for a year and a half to my story about the is that when i was working on that
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first volume, i read an oral history by the white house deputy press secretary, and those 17 blacked out pages, and i happened to meet her at a cocktail party in washington shortly after that, and i said to her, barber, i said, it's 40 years later, what about those blacked out pages? she said, okay, i'll open them for you. so i went to the archivist at the kennedy library and i said, making, barber said i could read the 17 pages. she shook her said and said please, don't get me in trouble with the kennedys. asked the board directly. needless to say, i didn't whet my appetite, and i -- >> a responsible for storing, of course. >> got to do your research. and so i went back to her and of course what i found was that he
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was having this affair with a 19 year-old kid, that he seduced her in jackie's bedroom. anyway, on the eu's of the publication of my book, the "new york daily news" called me up and they said, whose this woman? what's her name? i said i do know. barbara didn't tell me. i didn't want to know. after all, she's probably in her \60{l1}s{l0}\'60{l1}s{l0} now. leave her alone. why do we need to know her name? i trust that barber is done the trick. investigative journalist at the news, they found out that this woman, her name was meaning -- mimi. they found who she was. for three days running after that they read headlines about kennedy's monica. on the first day it ran a headline on page three. they had a picture of monica lewinsky. next to her a picture of me.
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[laughter] spent and you had to tell you what, i did not have -- [laughter] spent i said to my wife, i don't even know the woman. anyway, these are the adventures a historian can get into. it really was something off the wall about this. it was -- he was 45, president, and, of course, this young woman was dazzled by them. it was just over the top so that was something coming you know, unwholesome one might say about the way in which the behavior. but again, he got away with it and i don't think it would've been detected even if yet another five years in the white house, because the journalists didn't report it. >> it did have an effect on his leadership? like jackie kennedy, told him
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nothing that was going on and she had to read the newspapers. that was like the general resistance to criticism. >> he and bobby, they were very guarded in many ways. joe, the father, once told him, never put anything on paper and, indeed, joe was the one who counseled them not to reveal jack's health problems, which require substantial. because, joe said, it can't do him any good. or the world to know that he is a sickly or has addison's disease and has this miserable back problem, can't help them in any way at all. so they were guarded and very protective of their image and reputation. joe kennedy as early as 1920s understood that public relations, and he hired pr
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people to polish his image, and he was very mindful of this and i think jack and bobby were, too. and joe told them, the only one you can really trust is the immediate members of your family. hover close you may be to this aid or that eight or this cabinet member or that cabinet member, bobby is the only one you can really trust. and i think that's the way they operated. >> health problems, which you revealed before any other historian, he was taking all sorts of pills during the crisis and so forth. how much of health problems with the drugs he took the condition and how much was the underlying condition? >> because i was mindful of this, when i gained access to the medical records because the three-member committee wanted a professor at harvard, the other
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yale, if in ted sorenson and i talked sort them into getting access to the records. he didn't want to do. the other two were ready to do it. so sorenson did know what was in the records, and "the new york times" found the revelation so interesting as the book was about to come out, they published a front-page story about the revelations, because it was kind of shocking. just the image of kennedy was of this robust, vital, at that young man who played touch football, when, in fact, he was burdened by these terrible health difficulties, and on a host of different medications. when i read the records i took with me to washington -- to boston rather, a friend from washington, dr. jeffrey kelman, a wonderful physician, because i didn't have the expertise to instead what i was looking at, let alone the medications. we sat there and looked at this, and he shook his head and he said look at all these
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medications he's on day by day. so i said his medical records and medications he was taking down alongside of the 13 days of the missile crisis, and what i found was he was extraordinarily stoic and able to -- because of taking the medications i think, able to do with the tensions and the pressures that were on him as a consequence of that crisis. and i think that people currently, or in recent years, have not complained about the cover-up of his health problems because they see them as a rogue, stoic, and as someone who took the burdens of his health difficulties in stride. sorenson was angry at me for revealing the material, and he would say to me every time i saw him, there was no cover-up. but ted kennedy told me he didn't know that much about his
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brother's health problems until he read my account. and he learned about his brother's health difficulties from my book. and arthur schlesinger also learned, and arthur in ted kennedy, they were very positive about my book, plus they felt that they made the president look courageous, stoic. and i think that's the way the public views a health issue, not as something to complain about as when he was president, but someone who -- it adds to the positive image of him. >> stewart, courageous, those are qualities that emerged. others all cool, cerebral, not a natural politician, someone who's more interested in reading historical biography like schlesinger's book than in shaking hands. repeatedly, as i read this book, i thought of another president come and that is president
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barack obama. you have had dinner with president obama several times, as a group of historians someone to talk with them. you have an impression on him. in ted kennedy and obama in terms of leadership style and temperament. >> first off, what i would say is that if it weren't for kennedy i don't know that obama ever would've made it to the white house. because kennedy broke the hold of the white promise to males on the office. he opened the way to the idea that it should be a much broader group that can think about running for the office. and when we see a woman as president in the not-too-distant future -- not lobbying for anybody now, but -- [laughter] >> nonpartisan. >> that's why i said that. but we will see what was so and
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at some point we may see an asian american, maybe a hispanic, you see. but i think obama's presence in their innocence can be traced back to kennedy. obama is quite interesting in kennedy and he's quite interested in history of the presidency. we've had four dinners with them, and that the first dinner he wanted to talk about how other presidents had achieved their transformative presidency. roosevelt, woodrow wilson, fdr, reagan. how did they achieve big transformations. and the second and he wanted to talk about how to reclaim this hold on the public of the united states, because this is 2010 and he was slipping. 2011, he talked about the election, the coming election of 2012, and tell you one and a goat. he complained about congress in particular, michele bachman. shook his head and said, what
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she says about me, and so i said to them, mr. president, i guess you know what mark twain said about congress, and taoiseach is a. he said marc twain said the closure a congressman and suppose you were an idiot, but i repeat myself. [laughter] >> he loved it. but yeah, coming back to your point, i think there are similarities. obama is very cerebral. he is an academic, taught at law school if you wish chicago. in kennedy published books, wrote books. obama wrote books, editing it is a certain affinity for this kind of -- now kennedy was i think he was never a glad hander, and certainly obama is not a glad handed. i sat next to that one did and there's no smalltalk. he's really very serious and
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it's all business all the time, and that's fine with me. i'm academic, too, but kennedy never really liked that kind of traditional boston, how is your grandma and your uncle so-and-so? he never liked engaging in that kind of chatter. and i think obama is very serious about what he -- and, of course, the knock on him has been that he hasn't cultivated the people in congress the way lyndon johnson did. because johnson was the guy who was pressed the flesh, and somebody once said when lyndon back to into a and began breaking into your mouth you knew you were finished. [laughter] so a very, very different style, you see, and i think obama is a lot more like kennedy then compared to johnson. >> now, are there differences though? both appointed experts, the best
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and the brides, their green team, all harvard and rhodes scholar and so forth but kennedy learned to stop referring to them and exercise leadership by making a bold move on his own. has obama been similarly bold? >> jeff, i think obama's problem in a sense is that he is already been there a long time as presidential administrations go. he is the 44th president, and what always startles people is that there had been on the 18th of the 40 for president, only 18 who have been elected to a second term. that's pretty astonishing. and there have been only 13 who served eight years or more. franklin roosevelt served of course for 12, but three of them of course never got to the second term. lincoln was assassinated. mckinley was assassinated, and nixon was forced to resign. obama will be just the 14th
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president to have served eight years when he gets through his second term. but it's the second term curse. would we be sitting here talking in this way about kennedy if he had had a second term? i doubt it. he would have been a significant president but he would have also run into difficulty. what would you do about vietnam? it would depend the usual second term difficulties in the sense he was a lame duck. obama is struggling now i think it's no secret to say that, and i think kennedy would've struggled, too, in a second term. of course, we will never know. this is all pure speculation but kennedy of course games -- comes down to us now, it's an open book. you can write anything on it you
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want because he was martyred, killed at the age of 46, only 1000 days in the white house. he would've found he had a sense of the ironic. he would've found, had seen the irony in the fact that his early death date him this enduring hold on the public. and it's fascinating to me because mckinley was assassinated in 1901. popular president, elected to a second term, 50 years after his death hardly anybody remembers who he was. but here we are, a couple weeks away from kennedy's 50th anniversary and i'm telling you, i am inundated with requests from poland, from russia, from switzerland, from sweden, denmark, american journalists. it's a craze of crying with --
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i'm getting tired of it. i found after november 21, somebody once said you write a book -- i didn't want to talk about kennedy anymore. people are so eager -- i can't imagine any other president. spent we've got you for a few more weeks. i want to play it out. we did have a wonderful event here a few weeks ago about sponsored by the open university about what kennedy and lincoln's second term would've looked like, and you speculate a bit at the end. asked what he i persuaded congrs to pass the four major legislatures involving civil rights. so on that count, which it achieved what johnson and chief?
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>> i don't think he ever would've had the kind of come the great society indeed and commitment that johnson had. because kennedy was essentially a foreign policy president. he used to say politics can ncj, but foreign policy can kill you. he would have gotten i think it would've run against barry goldwater, he would have won a big victory the way johnson it. he would have carried big majorities, democratic majorities into the house and senate i think. and i think he would've gotten the big tax cut, the federal aid to education, the medicare and the civil rights bills past. that would put them in the lead. the most, the rest of the 20th century presidential reformers, alongside of tr and wilson and even compared somewhat to fdr. i don't think he would have pushed beyond that. i think he would've pushed
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toward detente. i think we would have seen they don't earlier with kennedy family did with richard nixon, because that cuban missile crisis was so sobering, sobering for khrushchev, too. and then, of course, they made the nuclear test ban treaty which eliminated the pollution and radiation in the atmosphere, and i think kennedy saw this as an opening towards a push with the soviets and he made that brilliant, famous and american university speech in june of 63 in which he said we should rethink, rethink our relationship with the soviet union. aimed at the russian people and he praised the russian people as a great people. he was looking toward i think some kind of accommodation, a movement away from the dangers of a nuclear war. and, of course, vietnam.
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[inaudible] >> you know, he was under tremendous pressure from people like walt who later became johnson's fascist get advisor. possibly bomb and put ground forces in. he did increase the number of advisors from roughly 600 to over 16,000. but he was so resistant to the idea of putting in massive numbers of american ground troops. george ball, his undersecretary of state, said to him, mr. president, you put two, 300,000 ground troops in the jungles of vietnam and you will never hear from them again. committee said to them, george, you are crazy as hell. meaning i take it. i'm never going to do that. what would he do about vietnam?
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we will never know. he didn't know. he didn't want to lose vietnam, but he didn't want to get deeply enmeshed in it. see, i love that anecdote about him and arthur schlesinger when arthur schlesinger help during the 60 campaign at the end of it, bobby kennedy said the schlesinger, arthur, how would you like to be ambassador? and schlesinger said if anything i would like to come to the white house. a few days later, schlesinger saw the president-elect and he said to them, arthur, i hear you're coming to the white house. and schlesinger said i am? will i be doing there? is that i don't know, i don't even know what i will be in doing their but you can bet we will both be busy more than eight hours a day. [laughter] many of two words said in jest. these men, they run for the office, they promise you the moon, they tell you they're going to do this and that, you
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see, like franklin roosevelt in 1932, they talk out of both sides of the mouth, or they don't tell you what they're going to do. did any of you see governor christie last night on cnn after he was elected? he praised the people who voted for him and all the people of new jersey, and he is one of them and they are part, et cetera. not a clue as to what he would do. smart politics. because who knows what he will do? and why should he say? he just want a big election. so kennedy, he didn't know. he wasn't sure. but i think it's clear he did not want to escalate and get involved in that war. he did not want to lose. maybe he would have on, but i don't think it would put 545,000 troops into vietnam. >> and johnson of course is among the most varicose and
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never listen to the experts. >> i teach in my courses the fact that franklin roosevelt was exceptionally shrewd about making foreign policy. in the run up to world war ii, he operated by the proposition that before you could have a stable consensus for a foreign policy, that might cost you blood and treasure, you needed to work hard to get the public committed to that foreign policy. roosevelt, pearl harbor was a godsend to him. i'm not suggesting for a second that he in any way engineered the surprise, but it allowed him to unify the country, you see, to fight world war ii. harry truman made the mistake of losing that consensus for the fight in korea, destroyed his presidency. johnson lost the consensus for the fighting in vietnam,
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destroyed his presidency. bush, domestic, weapons of mass destruction that weren't there. it undermined his leadership and left him with a terribly diminished popular support, including katrina and the economic downturn, you see. we talked to obama about this, and i said to him, mr. president, if you get into one of these wars without vital public commitment and consensus, it plays havoc with your domestic agenda because you lose your hold. you lose your credibility. remember johnson's credibility gap? how do you know when lending is telling you the truth? he begins to move his lips you know he is lying. [laughter] he didn't think it was funny but it was so revealing of the way
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in which his credibility was destroyed. when nixon said at a press conference, i am not a crook, that's when his presidency was over. no president has to tell the press in the country i am not a crook. you are finished. it's ridiculous. so you need consensus. you need support from a wide array of people. otherwise, you can't govern effectively. but roosevelt understood that and he had a public face and a private faith, and he manipulated. these subsequent presidents like truman and johnson and bush, they faulted on this count and they should've taken that fdr less and more seriously. seriously. >> this is a national constitution center so have to ask you, what was kennedy's constitutional legacy?
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there was a recently released memo justifying the plausible case in cuba. it is your thoughts on that. >> i think kennedy was one of those presidents early in the cold war who very much believed that what came first was national security, and if you had to cross the line, if you had to extend the powers of the executive to a degree that had been part of the country's history, you have to go ahead and do it. they were frustrated by congress. at one point they were so crushed by congress, i said to him, jack, let's go start our own country. and again, many true words said
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in jest. not that they would go start own country but they were going to do what they had to do to control things and make for a successful foreign policy. during the steel crisis, remember, the conflict with a steel executives, they turned loose the fbi and the irs and threatened those steel executives you see, and there was the account of a dinner that jack and bobby were at with some of the people, and somebody jumped and said, well, bobby really put the squeeze on these guys with the irs and the fbi. and kennedy said, oh, bobby would never do that. being so inclined to say of course he did it. so that's the way they operated. i think they have -- but again, cold war, life and death. he was determined to do what he
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needed to do to defend the country. >> we saw the cia excesses and attempted assassinations that led to the church commission as well. >> jeff, we will never know, i don't think we will ever know whether bobby and the president knew about the castro assassination plots. schlesinger, arthur schlesinger, of course was a great defender of kennedy and he said oh, he didn't know. he didn't know if the cia was running while. i don't know if that's true. maybe the president didn't know, maybe -- what do you call it? deniability, possible deniability, and maybe bobby new, but i don't know. you know, there are things that are that we will never find out, and they don't want you to find out. it was part of -- and on the
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other hand the three presidencies that will be studied most avidly and extensively will be kennedy, johnson and nixon, because we have all those tapes. fly on the wall. the ability to listen in on them talking. and so i guess we'll take questions in a minute, but i can't resist telling my favorite story -- tape story about lyndon johnson. it's too off-color and funny not to tell. [laughter] there's a tape of lyndon johnson, and i cannot for the life of me understand why he made. nick smith voice-activated tapes, right? kennedy and johnson, they would turn the machine on, or johnson would get a phone call and go like this to secretary, run the tape. the machine. there's a tape of johnson talking to this guy who was the present and haggar slacks. johnson said, are you the fellow
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making haggar slacks was yes, mr. president. you made me five pairs of pants last summer. i need five more pairs of pants this summer. listen, you've got to give me more room in the crotch because those pants are cutting my nuts something awful. [laughter] the president of the trendy, a white house tape. [laughter] but these days, historians know, we love it. >> kennedy comes off better in private and nixon or johnson did he didn't seem to let his guard down. was he just a more buttoned up speedy i think he was more buttoned up but he was also, jeff, he was more self-confident. and as he grew, he grew up in the presidency. by the end of the 1000 days he was much more accountable in the office, very confident that he was going to win reelection. and he joked with his aides, he said, if we run against barry
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goldwater in 64 we're going to get to sleep much earlier on election night that we did in 1960. knowing that the race against nixon was so terribly close. so he had a lot of self-confidence at that point and was convinced that he could -- and, of course, he did give that great american university speech that is still worth listening to this day. and its civil rights speech. he was very slow to come forward on civil rights, but when he finally acted, that speech was brilliantly done and from the heart, and was really very impressive. so, you know, terribly sad that he couldn't have had that second term to see what else might have happened. but in a sense what he left us and what the public has to brace is the point we started with, 85% approval. people love him.
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he is the presidential he wrote of people's memories. >> you said something powerful. he grew your key did grow. he started off cerebral but gained confidence in leadership, and bobby kennedy group, too, from the brush mccarthy to some of the great compassion for people. what was in that odd upbringing with the incredibly ambitious father put been determined to succeed at all costs and the doting mother with all the kids that allowed these two men to grow? >> well, i think for bobby it was his brother's assassination. i think that was such a searing depressing experience for him, but it generated a kind of compassion and a feeling of reaching out to those who were the least advantaged in society and needed the most tell.
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for kennedy, i think the presidency was in some ways a sobering experience. he knew how close they had come to a nuclear holocaust, and the burdens of power of authority had sobered him and left him feeling that he was incredibly lucky in his life. his father, as he once said, made it all possible. and he needed to acquit himself in the greatest possible way to sort of fulfill his potential. he was sort of lucky to have gained the white house. so i think they became -- there was a degree of humility that came along with authority. >> so self-confident and arrogant in some ways but -- all right, i could go on all night but there are lots of great
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questions. here is one question asked by several of our audience members. you believe the war in committee conclusion -- the war and committee conclusion? >> you are among friends. you can tell us the truth. >> i do think the warren commission got it right, fundamentally right, that i don't believe i there was a conspiracy. i think oswald was the only killer. for me, the interesting question is, why is it that this day, 59% of people in this country still think there is an undisclosed or was an undisclosed conspiracy? and i think it has a lot to do with the feeling that people can accept the proposition that someone as inconsequential as oswald could've killed someone as consequential as the president. and also they are deeply
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troubled by the idea that there could be this sort of happenstance, this chance happening that after all, this oswald was a mayor deuel, didn't get lucky shots and, of course, was also the collected narrative is the fact when kennedy was shot, the first bullet went through the back of his neck. he was wearing a back brace that he normally wore in order to relieve the terrible back pain that he normally had. if he hadn't been wearing a back brace, that first bullet would have toppled him, would have knocked him over and the bullet that then the bullet that then found the back of his head and killed him never would have found its mark. so it is just fortuitous, but
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it's very hard for people to accept that. there's got to be some larger design, some larger explanation for how this all could have happened. and the warren commission is terribly imperfect report. the fbi and the cia hated certain things but they didn't want the public to know. are negligent they were. how could they have not known about this oswald, that he got this italian mail order rifle? the guy was a nutcase and had been in the soviet union. and why didn't they know about his whereabouts? so they were very defensive, and i think that the warren commission report sort of in some ways whitewashed or omitted the failings of the fbi and the cia it but the basic conclusion i think is correct. i think the most extensive work on this is by anthony bugliosi,
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1650 pages. it's an encyclopedia repeating all these conspiracy ideas, and yet they thrive. i looked the other day at amazon, and my new book was among the hardcover source of there. it was number three. the two books i had that were conspiracy, assassination books. and i really don't deal with the assassination. i just feel it's sort of beating a dead horse. >> several audience members want to know, we could have kept lbj if he had a second? >> i think unquestionably. when he put that civil rights bill before congress, he was -- he and bobby were very concerned that they were advertising the 64 reelection.
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because they had won by such a narrow margin and they won texas and a few other southern states. they needed those southern states they felt to be reelected, and they thought that civil rights bill was jeopardizing their hold on those southern states. so he needed johnson there to shore up his standing in texas. and that's why he went to dallas, to do political fencemending in november of 62, a year before the -- rather in 63, a year before the 64 election. so yeah, i don't think he would have dumped johnson's. >> in the same spirit though, given your research into jfk's medical history, would addison's disease have affected his second term? >> impossible to know. my physician friends and spoke to said they don't think he would have lived a long life, but the medicines he was taking were enough to see him through probably another four years.
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you know, these predictions about one's medical history are very, very dicey. woodrow wilson, after he was elected, wilson had jesus of very small strokes when he was president. you want to see a urologist here in philadelphia. this man was the most distinguished neurologist in the country at the time, 1912, and he told doctor grayson it was wilson's white house physician, admiral grayson, that he didn't think wilson would live out his term. he had some kind of terrible stroke but, of course, wilson made it through almost seven years of the presidency before he had a terrible stroke. all sorts of people said cheney would never get through eight years because of his heart condition. so i would be reluctant to predict anything about anyone's
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health, -- about kennedy's health. >> here's a great question with a constitutional test. with the current environment of their partisan politics, what past presidents would be most successful and with adjectives do they need a cerebral doesn't seem to work. [laughter] >> well, i think it would have been a hell of a lot more difficult for people like fdr, theodore roosevelt in this current media environment, because it's 24/7 new cycle. it's so much more difficult to escape the clutches, so to speak, of the press. you know, johnson used to sit in a hideaway office kneecap to kneecap with edward dirksen, the minority leader, and dirksen
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would say to them, mr. president, i know a fine young man in my home state of illinois who i believe deserves a judgeship and johnson would say, we will look into that. the deal was cut. johnson is going to get dirksen to vote on something and dirksen was going to get the judgeship for his constituency. if this were the case now, they would screen ugly bargain, political corruption. but that's how politics works. that's how it worked in the past, you see. and so it's so much more difficult i think to operate in that way. there were leaks of course to the press. johnson hated the leaks. kennedy hated elites. roosevelt didn't like it, although johnson and roosevelt and kennedy, they would leak things to the press themselves in order -- ross once told me when johnson appointed him national security advisor, he
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called them up the night before the announcement was being made at midnight and said to him, why did you tel tell the press on te pointing you national security advisor? and he said mr. president, i didn't tell anybody, i didn't tell the press. johnson hung up on them. he went to bed not knowing if johnson was going to announce his appointment the next day. but it was johnson's way of controlling him. still my boy. johnson and joe califf on the talked about this in his memoir about the way in which johnson would control people. this was one technique he had. the kiddies would leak things that would be too good vantage. didn't want anyone to delete that they would. it's a very changed environment. >> we begin by talking about the polls. would ask you about asking your professional a suspect in the.
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he was very focused on greatness and the idea of great leaders, great men, great people in history. where does he rank? if the average, below average, above average? >> i would describe it as a significant present. i would not say he was a great president in the league with let's say fdr or lincoln or washington, but he was a significant president. and in some ways his legacy becomes more significant than his record as president. there were some great achievements, significant achievements as president that resolution of the cuban missile crisis, the nuclear test ban treaty to the promised to put a man on the moon, putting those, that civil rights bill before the congress. those four major bills that johnson passed should all be called kennedy-johnson built. but impossible to describe him in the league, although lots of
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people, the polls show him since his death consistently one of the top five presidents in american history. historians see this quite differently from the general public, you see, so there is a kind of division. what i thought about is 50 years from now, will there be a gathering like this again to remember kennedy? i think it depends a lot on what happens with the presidency over the next 50 years. if another president comes along that captures the country's imagination and sort of becomes heroic, thrills the country with their leadership, i think it will eclipse kennedy. but as long as there is the feeling that these presidents are stumbling and not all that effective, people continue to turn to kennedy and reagan, and
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to reagan, you see. the pride is back. i don't think people remember what presidents do. do you think the rumor that roosevelt put the food in michigan and white house or he was ahead of the federal reserve? roosevelt did social security? you know about that elderly man who said i don't want the government fully with my medicare. do they know if johnson put the federal program? but to remember some of the words, every member some of the rhetoric. roosevelt said nothing to fear but fear itself, and kennedy said ask not what you country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country. reagan said it's morning in america and the pride is back to they remember these inspirational talks. and they need to be -- they need heroes. they want u.s. and for the moment kennedy and
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reagan among presidents are the ones who fill that bill. it will be quite interesting to see what evolves over the next 50 years. i'm very selfish. i say i wish i could come back and a couple hundred years and see what's happened to the country. but even my randy yossi doesn't extend that far. [laughter] >> ladies and gentlemen, please join me in thanking robert dallek. [applause] >> thank you. >> thank you so much for coming. we will see you again. [inaudible conversations]
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